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Widening rift with critics, Trump to skip Kennedy Center Honor awards

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet supporters before speaking at the Covelli Centre, Tuesday, July 25, 2017, in Youngstown, Ohio. Credit: AP / Tony Dejak

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday pushed away more critics of his policies and response to the violence at a pro-white rally in Virginia a week ago by canceling his participation in the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.

After two of the five artists being honored said they would boycott the pre-ceremony White House reception because of his policies, Trump and first lady Melania Trump chose to skip the Kennedy Center Honors event in December.

“The President and first lady have decided not to participate in this year’s activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Trump’s action follows a tumultuous week in which he dissolved advisory panels on manufacturing, infrastructure and the arts after several members quit to protest his equivocation on denouncing the neo-Nazis whose rally in Charlottesville led to the death of a woman.

The American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, Salvation Army and five other major charities last week also canceled future fundraising events at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s “Winter White House” in Palm Beach, Florida, some citing his Charlottesville comments, The Washington Post reported.

Billionaire investor and Trump friend Carl Icahn on Friday relinquished his role as regulatory adviser to the president.

And in a senior staff shake-up Friday, his high-profile and polarizing chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, left the White House and returned to run the right-wing online Breitbart News.

In a magazine interview on Wednesday, Bannon had criticized Trump’s approach to North Korea and its nuclear weapons program by saying “there’s no military solution,” a direct contradiction of the president’s threat of “fire and fury.”

Still, Trump tweeted Saturday, “I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton — it was great! Thanks S”

And Trump welcomed Bannon’s vow to wage “war” to support him on the outside.

“Steve Bannon will be a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews . . . maybe even better than ever before. Fake News needs the competition!” Trump tweeted.

Trump retains support of his most enthusiastic supporters. Gallup’s Daily Tracking Poll put his approval rating at 38 percent Friday, up from his all time low of 34 percent a week ago.

But Trump faced criticism from the some of the Kennedy Center honorees, whose careers will be celebrated on Dec. 3.

Dancer Carmen de Lavallade, one of the first African-Americans to dance for the Metropolitan Opera, announced her boycott after Trump’s comments on the Charlottesville clash.

She accused Trump of offering a “socially divisive and morally caustic narrative” and said in keeping with her principals she could not go to the White House reception.

Writer/producer Norman Lear protested Trump’s treatment of the arts — and his proposal to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and for the Humanities.

Singer-songwriter Lionel Richie, another honoree, said he was “playing it by ear.” Hip-hop artist LL Cool J did not say what he had planned to do.

But Cuban American singer Gloria Estefan said she would have gone to make the case to Trump about the value of immigrants in American culture.

Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein and President Deborah F. Rutter said they respected Trump’s decision.

By not participating, Trump will ensure “the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the Honorees. We are grateful for this gesture,” they said.

On Friday, Trump also dissolved his advisory Committee on the Arts and the Humanities after its 17 members — all appointed by President Barack Obama — resigned in protest.

On Wednesday, Trump shut down advisory councils he had created on manufacturing, business strategy and infrastructure after many chief executives who are members quit in response to his remarks on Charlottesville.

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